The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Time travel

Llandudno Bay is bounded by twin headlands of pale limestone. We stood on the larger of the two, Great Orme, looking out across a misty, morning sea, already certain that we needed far more time to explore than we would have. By tea-time, we needed to be in Tremadog, about fifty miles to the south… not much more than an hour’s drive on the fast road, perhaps, but we sort of had to call at a stone circle on the way and would take the mountain roads to our destination. We were meeting at five-thirty, which would give us plenty of time, but leave none for further exploration. Not that we would be complaining if it meant we had to come back…

The name, Orme, comes from the Viking word for ‘sea serpent’ and the silhouette of the headland, as we would see on our return, does resemble a dragon’s head. It is a fair size… about a mile wide and two miles long… and the grass covered limestone is home to wildlife and wildflowers galore, as well as the sheep and goats that graze here. The Kashmir goats are the descendants of a pair gifted to Queen Victoria by the Shah of Persia and it is from their number that the regimental goat of the Royal Welsh regiment is chosen and given the honorary rank of lance corporal. There are many visitors to the Orme, including migrating birds and people drawn by the more obvious attractions…like the trams, cable-cars and Summit Centre. Some leave their mark in stone upon the green slopes, even today. But it was the traces of older communities that had caught our interest and we were here to go back in time.

The Orme has a long history in human terms, though we are but a blip on its timeline that is millions of years older than humanity. It is in such places as the Great Orme that time travel becomes a reality, not just the stuff of science fiction. Looking out across the tiny landscape, so many relics remain that carry the mind back, beyond its birth, to its roots in a common life. Secret experimental radar work had been carried out here during the war years and artillery had trained here… some of the gun emplacements can still be found tucked under the cliffs. In 1901, a cable tramway was built to carry people to the summit as tourism began its ineluctable march. It carried coffins too, taking the dead up to the medieval church. St Tudno’s was originally built in the 12th century and we would need to visit one of these days, not only the church but the holy wells. The saint for whom the church was named had made his home on the Orme during the sixth century and a chapel was built on the site. But we were going further back than St Tudno or the Romans who had reopened old mines on the headland.

The area is a time machine, where each step takes you on a journey into the past. There are barrows and dolmens, a stone row, sacred springs and ancient settlements, all written on the landscape, weathered by wind and sea-spray but still bearing the unmistakable touch of human life, echoing down the ages… a puzzle still waiting to be deciphered. One piece of the puzzle, though, had fallen into place, almost by accident, back in 1987 during the survey work that was being done prior to landscaping an area of the Orme. Mines had been discovered and the archaeological finds changed our understanding of the Bronze Age in Britain. Until the mines were unearthed, it was thought that our ancestors, four thousand years ago, were still living in the Stone Age and had not yet been taught the art of smelting metal that had made its way across Europe from the Middle East.  Tucked away beneath the grass above a Victorian seaside town was the evidence of a new vision of our past… and, as the mist began to fade, the gates were about to open…

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